People keep asking me about motivation which seems ironic: I’m the least motivated person I know.
How do you keep writing? Should you write every day, even when you don’t feel like it? Or wait for inspiration to strike?
In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert describes ideas as if they are beings in their own right. She describes them as having consciousness as they seek human partners to engage with. This seems far-fetched, unbelievable, yet that’s exactly how it feels to me when inspiration strikes me. It seems to have arrived their of its own accord. When I was paid to think of new programmes for the BBC, I struggled. But when I’m out on a walk or baking a cake, thinking about nothing in particular, suddenly an idea pops into my head.
And that’s the time to act on it. If it’s a book idea, I need to get writing straightaway, to ride the crest of that initial wave of inspiration and enthusiasm, get as much down on paper as I possibly can, because that’s when the words flow most easily.
But inevitably that initial wave reaches the shore and ebbs away. I’m left feeling that writing is hard graft. It’s so tempting to abandon the book at that point. So how can I keep going?
The internet is full of tips for getting motivated: minimise distractions, don’t edit whilst you’re writing, dedicate a special place in your house to be your writing space, or even imagine yourself writing and enjoying it. Perhaps some of these might work for you. These are my top four tips:
1. I establish a routine: if I do something every day at the same time, I am much more likely to keep going.
2. I tell myself that I’ll just write for twenty minutes or set myself a very small target of say, 200 words. Once I’m started, I often find myself back in the zone and able to continue for longer.
3. I write anyway, even if what I’m writing isn’t great. I can go back later and improve it which is easier than starting with a blank sheet.
4. I trouble-shoot. Is there a problem with the plot of the book that is holding me back? A hole in the plot? A character whose motivation I haven’t fully figured out?
Sometimes it’s a lack of confidence that is holding me back. I think, “What’s the point? No-one’s going to read this!” If I may, I’ll quote Elizabeth Gilbert again here. “I wrote this book for my own pleasure,” she says in Big Magic. So write for you, because you enjoy it. Don’t write for anyone else.
My final tip is this. My favourite books give me a sense of being with friends when I read them. Louisa in Me Before You is a fictional character but if she were real, I’m sure we could be mates. I’d love to meet Elfrida from Rosamund Pilcher’s A Winter Solstice or have a gossip with Geraldine from Anne Fine’s Our Precious Lulu.
I’m starting to see the characters of the two novels I’m currently writing as my friends too. Ella is only 9 but I can really relate to her lack of confidence. Martha is single but so wishes she wasn’t, and that’s a feeling I remember so vividly from my late thirties too. Writing then becomes not so much about getting words onto pages but about spending time with these people in their worlds and that makes it a much more exciting prospect altogether.